Fred Kent is holding a laptop, flipping through photos of bustling cityscapes.
Some of them — Paris, Buenos Aires — are world-famous attractions. Others — Porto, Portugal; Helsinki, Finland — are more under the radar.
All the photos have something in common: They’re full of people.
Kent is a “placemaker” — an urban designer who has influenced cityscapes across the world. He thinks downtown Annapolis can be like these cities.
He will host a workshop Saturday to help Annapolis and Anne Arundel County residents take stock of their city spaces and imagine uses they’d like to see.
Peter Fillat, the architect designing a controversial downtown hotel, is funding the $10,000 event — though Kent denies any conflict of interest.
“If we were told we had to do something, we would walk,” Kent said.
His nonprofit Project for Public Spaces has worked in New York, Minneapolis, Boston, Houston and beyond. The group took an empty, street-choked downtown Detroit and helped create Campus Martius Park, a public square complete with a beach, green space and hundreds of movable chairs.
The downtown City Dock area and the rest of historic Annapolis has a layout similar to some of the “most stunning” waterfronts in the world, Kent said. There’s just one problem.
“The car owns the city,” he said.
On a recent weekday, he motioned to the cars parked outside 49 West Coffeehouse, blocking the view both out of and into the business. If the city moved parking to the other side of the street, away from storefronts and toward the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and the post office, businesses could expand their sidewalks, offer cafes and create destinations.
Destinations attract people, and people — not cars — attract more people.
Annapolis residents and surrounding community members could generate this experiment after the Saturday workshop, which will treat them as the experts. Kent is well aware of the pushback communities tend to present if so-called experts present them with limited options.
That scenario played out in the city multiple times, most recently with Fillat’s Dock Street hotel designs and a pump-station control building slated for near the Newman Street park.
“We don’t find resistance if we let them determine what they want to do,” Kent said. “If we come in and say, ‘You’re the experts … We have to solve this problem,’ … it’s a big jailbreak.”
The workshop will begin at 9 a.m. near Susan Campbell Park with a presentation by Kent. Those participating will break into groups to assess locations in the downtown and historic Annapolis areas and explore uses.
Residents will then label a map with green, yellow and red dots for well-used spaces, spaces with potential and poorly used spaces.
The groups will reconvene at 1 p.m. to present their ideas.
“I do think it’s a very responsible thing for the city to seek expert urban planning advice,” Historic Annapolis President Robert Clark said.
Historic Annapolis recently expressed concern about proposed downtown development without further study of plans and cultural resources.
It’s undecided whether Kent will continue to consult the city regarding downtown development. The City Dock area will be tough to solve, Kent said, and the city might need his services a little longer.
Alderwoman Ellie Tierney, D-Ward 1, said she is excited to see if the event will help improve Susan Campbell Park and access to the water but has limited expectations regarding the results.
She doesn’t expect Kent to address issues of height and bulk and scale of development, including the proposed hotel, and that’s what she wants to talk about.
“To him, the buildings are secondary,” she said. “His focus is public spaces.”
When you go
What: Urban design workshop with Fred Kent
When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday
Where: Parking area closest to Susan C. Campbell Park in downtown Annapolis
For more information: Visit www.annapolis.gov.